The moment Brodie Van Wagenen was hired to be GM of the Mets, I heard rumblings from MLB insiders that he was hellbent on acquiring a veteran with postseason experience, Hall of Fame credentials, and a strong reputation across baseball.
During the GM Meetings in November, sources said routine check-in conversations revealed a potential match between the Mets and Mariners, who had future Hall of Fame second baseman Robinson Cano. The M's were reportedly the first of the two teams to raise Cano's name. However, it stands to reason that - since Van Wagenen represented Cano in negotiations of his current contract - that the new GM found his former client to the exact player described above.
It took time to hash out prospects, cash value, big league players, and which team would be paying for who and when. However, when the dust settled, Cano, along with promising closer Edwin Diaz and $20 million, were sent to the Mets in return for prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, and Gerson Bautista, as well as the remaining contracts of Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak.
The trade was initially met with mixed reviews.
I viewed it as a risk worth taking - for the exact reasons described by Van Wagenen. But, more than that, I continue to remain fascinated by its moving parts and potential to be scrutinized in real time for at least the next four years.
The Mets were excited to land Diaz in the deal and make him their closer entering 2019, a spot they hoped he would handle for several more seasons. However, he's a reliever. And, as everyone knows, relievers - especially top closers - tend to make bad long-term bets because of their collective, inconsistent track record.
For example, Swarzak has already been traded. He struggled in Seattle, who traded him with cash to the Braves, for whom he is pitching very well. Of course, he pitched well for the Indians in 2017, which helped him get a multi-year deal from the Mets, for whom he didn't pitch well.
At the same, Bruce is doing for the Mariners what he's always done, which is do nothing well outside of hitting home runs.
This is why, in the end, the deal's success and failure for the M's and Mets hinges on how Kelenic realizes his star potential, and whether Cano produces to the level of his massive contract. If these two plot points balance out in a positive way, the deal will be viewed as a mutual success. If they fail, we'll be singing a different tune.
The problem for the Mets is that, while the road in front of Kelenic is wide open, the odds that Cano performs to the level of his salary - for five years - is virtually impossible.
The reality he and the Mets are facing is that, even if he does have the fuel to deliver on the promise of his contract, it will be an unprecedented act, especially considering he'll be 40 years old when cashing his final check.
The trade is still fresh from the oven having been completed less than six months ago. However, the early read by both team's fans is that the M's are in the lead.
It doesn't help Van Wagenen's case that Kelenic, who is 19 and was drafted less than one year ago, has already been promoted by Seattle to High-A, which is very rare for a teenager.
Kelenic, a left-handed-hitting center fielder, is not expected to get bumped to Double-A this season, though Seattle's front office is on record saying it would happen if a promotion is warranted by performance.
So far in High-A, in 49 games, he's batting .303 with a .391 OBP, 10 home runs, 13 doubles, three triples, seven stolen bases, 25 walks and 45 strikeouts.
"He's an electric, dynamic young player," an American League source in player development told me about Kelenic earlier today. "He has an innate ability to use the entire field line to line. He has presence and attitude out there that reminds me a lot of Bryce Harper."
"I can't for the life of me figure out why Brodie put this kid in that deal," the source concluded, at which point I let out an audible sigh.
The Harper comparisons - in terms of attitude - were softly spoken by insiders in the weeks after Alderson's front office picked Kelenic as the first high school hitter in last year's draft. I recall talking to an agent very familiar with the player and New York that felt Kelenic would never be given a chance to succeed at Citi Field, where fans are frustrated and have high expectations while reporters would likely pounce on and misrepresent his actions and words.
Nevertheless, as we speak, the kid is proving worthy of excitement, and it's not difficult to see him debuting in Seattle within the next year, at which point every Mets fan will be simultaneously wishing him well and rooting for him to fail.
Meanwhile, Cano, who was hitting just .240 and on pace for less than 10 home runs before straining his left quad muscle, has been on the Injured List since May 23.
Cano will earn $19 million this year, has a full no-trade clause, and must be paid another $81 million by the Mets during the next four seasons. He has paid very few dividends to date. Frankly, his most impactful contribution may be how he's influenced Michael Conforto, who repeatedly credits Cano for a large part of his success this season.
According to reports, Cano is progressing well during his rehab, as he is now jogging and taking batting practice. But there is still no stated timeline for his return. The injury came on the heels of criticism by manager Mickey Callaway for Cano's lack of hustle. Naturally, the next night, Cano unnecessarily hustled down the first base line, came up lame, and is now out of action.
It's early and a lot can happen, but most Mets fan - myself included - see a future for Kelenic and Cano that is not too dissimilar to what is playing out in the short six months since the deal was completed. The fear since that time for anyone associated with the Mets has been that Kelenic will blossom into a superstar, and Cano will lose power as he cashes $20 million checks during endless rehab assignments in St. Lucie.
In other words, given the praise for and trajectory behind Kelenic, it is Cano that is weighing down the balance of power in this controversial trade. He has plenty of time to pick it up, hit, lead, provide fair value, and make the Mets proud.
However, at least for now, it's difficult for Mets fans to believe he can do it at all, let alone for another four years.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!